“Why do Saurashtra’s hardworking people, who have travelled to all corners of the world and enriched those parts, have to suffer in their own homes?” Congress President Sonia Gandhi's rhetorical question is greeted by thunderous cheers at a massive rally on Friday afternoon here, a 40-minute drive from Junagadh city.
Ms. Gandhi clearly hits the right spot in a region which has seen a spate of farmers’ suicides, erratic water and electricity supply and, thanks to the exit of former Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel from the Bharatiya Janata Party and the formation of the Gujarat Parivartan Party, an undercurrent of resentment against the Modi government among the powerful Lehwa Patels, a majority of whom are farmers.
Indeed, with a mini-revolt brewing here against the BJP, the Congress has decided to focus on Saurashtra and Kutch, which together account for 54 of the 182 seats in the State Assembly. Ms. Gandhi’s visit to Keshod was her second visit to Saurashtra in these elections: she had kicked off her Gujarat campaign on October 3 with a rally in Rajkot.
And on December 11, Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi will address public meetings in Amreli, Jaamnagar, both in Saurashtra, and Gandhidham In Kutch.
On Friday afternoon, as a merciless Sun beats down on Keshod, villagers pour in, filling the grounds and spilling on to the road. The main stage is small, with a single poster of Sonia Gandhi as backdrop, the strapline reading “Sah sahmat Congress ne mat.” (Everyone is agreed, vote Congress) Some local Kathiawari folk music — followed by Mile sur hamara tumhara and then Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram — blares from a mini stage on the side.
The theme of the afternoon is clearly the neglect of Saurashtra. The Congress president doesn’t mince her words: “People who made big promises and came to power did nothing to improve irrigation in Saurashtra,” she says, adding, “Now this is election time and these people again come to you with tall promises.”
Farmers here, she says, are facing many difficulties because of the BJP government’s anti-farmer policies; about 4.5 lakh farmers are still waiting for electricity connections.
Ms. Gandhi's speech is preceded by those of the State’s two top leaders, Shaktisinh Gohil and Arjun Modhwadia: Mr. Gohil is a powerful speaker, and has the crowd clapping madly as he says that Saurashtra does not get electricity as the Gujarat government sells it to neighbouring States. “If you are a man, then spend one night in Saurashtra,” he thunders. “We are not fighting for power but houses for women, electricity for farmers and laptops for young,” he says to cheers. “In Delhi when a CAG report indicts the government, the UPA is labelled a thief, but here when the CAG gives a similar report on the Modi government, it is ignored.”
Mr. Modhwadia also makes a short sharp speech. “Here, when young men want jobs, Modi organises a kite festival; when the poor want a plot of land, he organises a Garib Kalyan Mela; when the people in the Rann of Kutch want water, he has a Rannutsav; when women want homes, he organises a Navratri programme. Who knows what festival he will organise next — a donkey mela.” The crowd roars with laughter.